Religion is a complex and diverse collection of beliefs, practices, and rituals that are experienced by human beings. It is difficult to define, but some definitions attempt to distinguish it from other phenomena that might be considered religious. For example, it may be defined as a set of experiences with supernatural and divine components that have a significant impact on people’s worldviews, actions, morality, culture, and approach to certain writings or persons. Some scholars take a polythetic approach to the concept of religion, which views it as a genus containing several species. These are characterized by specific characteristics, which, when present in a sufficient degree, make them members of the class and give them the label of religion.
Others use a monistic approach, which defines religion as a set of specific attributes that are associated with the phenomenon. For example, it might be defined as the belief that gods exist and that these gods are capable of intervening in humans’ lives to either guide or punish them. This definition would then focus on trying to explain the occurrence of such beliefs in order to understand religion. However, it is important to note that this definition might lead to a very narrow understanding of what it means for something to be religious.
The question of how to define religion has been a source of great debate among social scientists. Some argue that it is useful to define the term to include as much of a cultural phenomenon as possible, since the emergence of religion was likely a result of a combination of both cultural and biological factors. Other scholars, on the other hand, think that it is important to be able to clearly distinguish religion from other phenomena. In their view, a clear definition is necessary to facilitate scientific inquiry and prevent confusion with other types of social phenomenon.
A major debate concerns the issue of whether a scientific theory should try to explain the features of religion in general or just individual examples of them. Those who advocate the latter position have been criticized for their bias towards Protestant culture, since it focuses on explaining what is in people’s heads rather than on how people actually live their lives.
It is also often argued that it is impossible to have an objective definition of religion, as the concept can only be understood through the lens of its practitioners. This is a valid point, because the nature of religion is so deeply entrenched in subjective mental states that it is unlikely that it can be fully understood without taking these into account. However, there are some scholars who have criticized this argument, saying that it is a form of reductionism to reduce the complexity of human culture to simple elements such as religion and economics (Possamai 2018).